Krista is a senior analytics specialist with over six years of industry leading experience. She actually used to be a scientist and discovered a brand new gene. Turns out it was a Marketing gene! Krista's guilty secret: She thinks that Neil Degrasse Tyson is dreamy...

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UTM Codes: The How, the What & the Why

Do Not Despair…

Vovia Google UTMDoes looking at your Analytics traffic report leave you wondering where your hard fought marketing dollars have gone? Are you confused by the blur of odd looking referral sources and suspiciously high direct-traffic? The first step to more insightful measurement and reporting from Google Analytics is being able to segment your site’s traffic and accurately attribute behaviors to the correct traffic sources.

Your New Best Friend!

Whenever purposeful effort has been put into the acquisition of traffic and conversions, you will want to be able to view and measure that traffic in isolation from all other sources. This becomes particularly important when it comes to paid sources, conversion rate optimization, attribution modelling, and ultimately evaluating your return on investment. Unfortunately, the defaults in Google Analytics rarely match up with the desired schema without outside intervention; however, you can now manipulate how certain traffic sources show up in Analytics using (your new best friend) UTM codes! Anywhere that you can set the inbound link, you can use a UTM code.


UTM stands for ‘Urchin Traffic Monitor’ and was created by Urchin Software Corporation.  Urchin was acquired by Google in 2005 and its software evolved into what we now know as Google Analytics. A UTM code is a small snippet that you add to the end of a link which allows Analytics to recognize and index traffic based on 5 parameters:

Source – Typically indicates where the link is hosted (i.e. the name of the publisher or vendor).

Medium – The channel that the link is delivered through. This can be simple (i.e. cpc, search, display, etc.), or it can be used to indicate ad formats (i.e. display-bigbox, banner-leaderboard, etc.)

Campaign – Unique name used to specify what you’re promoting or how you’re promoting it (i.e. spring2014-remarketing, spring-newcar, spring2014-search-usedtruck, etc.). Alternatively, if the link is an article, a blog post, or a piece with a longer lifecycle (as opposed to a marketing campaign), this field could also be used to indicate a publication date for indexing purposes.

***The above three parameters are required, the following two are optional and are most commonly used in paid advertising campaigns***

Term – Typically used for paid search campaigns to denote specific keywords used for the ad.

Content – Used to describe the creative content of the ad.  Useful in A/B testing to specify creative versions.


Here’s an example of what a UTM code for a display ad would look like:

For its spring campaign, ‘’ is A/B testing display ads on the test ad network to promote the sale of green pens. This ad is for creative ‘version A’ of our bigbox ad.

UTM Best Practices

Here are some best practices to keep in mind as you begin your journey into better measurement:

1)     Tag Every URL You Can:

The following are good places to put UTM codes to work for you:

Paid Advertising – paid search, display ads, paid social ads

Email – tag all links back to your site in your email newsletters, you can even use different UTM codes to tag different content within the same email

Social Media – tag all links back to your site in your social media feeds

All other inbound links – partner sites, review sites, articles, blog posts, webinars, etc.

2)     Use Standard Nomenclature:

Aim to standardize naming conventions for ease of tracking across mediums, campaigns, and time periods. Also, UTM parameters are case sensitive, so it’s a good rule of thumb to always use all lower-case in your UTM tags.  Whatever you choose to do, be consistent!

3)     Use an Automated Tool:

Adwords has an auto-tagging option, which automatically imports data into Analytics (for all UTM parameters) for auto-tagged Adwords campaigns. Google has a URL builder tool for single links and Luna Metrics has a tool that will do bulk URLs.

For social media, use a link shortener to prevent users from removing the URL when sharing content. Many social media management platforms (i.e. HootSuite) have tagging tools baked in that will both tag and shorten the links.

4)     Always Keep a Master List:

Only sources that have been clicked will show up in your analytics reporting. Since you’re doing this for the purposes of increased accuracy and better reporting, it’s important to keep a master list of all the UTM codes that you have used during a given time. This is critical to be able to monitor what’s showing up in your traffic reports versus what’s expected to be in market.  This is also helpful for quality control checks with ad vendors and monitoring campaign timing and performance.

 What Are You Waiting For?

UTM codes are easy to implement and will make your analytics experience infinitely better. The only real question is: what are you waiting for?

Have you used UTM codes before? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!